Friday, July 25, 2014

The Shadow Lamp (a book review post)

Here we are at book four of the Bright Empires series by Stephen Lawhead. You can see my reviews for the other books at the following links:
The Skin Map
The Bone House
The Spirit Well

[Seeing that this is book four, I'm not even going to try to do this without spoilers. I'm not sure there's a good way to even try. I will, though, be as general as possible, so any spoilers may not make sense anyway. Except for one, which will be a huge spoiler, so, if you even think you might want to read this series, when I get to the part where I'm talking about the new conflict, well, you'll probably not want to read that part.]

The elapsed time span in this novel seems to be much shorter than the previous books, at least as it passes with the central characters. There is still all kinds of back story as it relates to the Flinders-Petrie family and Burleigh, which is all interesting, but I'm not certain exactly how much of it pertains to the "present day" story. Well, I think that the stuff to do with the map is at least quasi-important, because the map (the skin map) is very important, so how it ended up in pieces is probably going to end up being important. But, still, the advancement of the main plot, the story around Kit, doesn't make much progress.

However, that doesn't mean there are no significant events.
We're introduced to another new character, and I'm not sure how vital he will end up being to the overall story, but he was at least vital in one area in this book. Still, it's kind of weird to me that Lawhead has continued to introduce major characters this far into the series. I'm not saying that it's a bad thing; it's just not usual. Generally speaking, series like this give us the whole cast of characters right up front and, if not, certainly by the end of the second book, but Lawhead gave us two major characters in book three and at least one in book four (and possibly a second, I'm not sure, yet), so that aspect is interesting to me.

The other thing of interest to me is the conflict (and, yes, this is where the major spoiler comes in). During the first three books, the conflict is really just over the skin map itself. Kit and his group (the Zetetic Society, even though Kit didn't know that) on one side and Burleigh on the other. The skin map is a twofold prize: 1. The obvious one, it provides a map to travelling the leys, and there is a lot of profit in ley travelling if that's your motivation. 2. There is a secret hidden the map. There is speculation that the secret is the Spirit Well, but no one is quite sure if that's it or not. Of course, the Spirit Well, all by itself, is a prize beyond compare.

So for three books we're going with that as the conflict, but The Shadow Lamp introduces a new character, Tony Clarke, and, through him, we discover that there is something much worse going on, something that could lead to the actual destruction of not just the universe but the entire multiverse. Of course, getting the skin map may be the only way to stop the threat. All of it leaves one wondering how in the world he will wrap all of this up in the fifth (and final) book, which is something I started wondering in book three, actually.

Now, here's my problem:
Bright Empires is not really a time travel story even though it has time travel, of a sorts, in it. However, this book develops a time travel issue, and I'm not sure, yet, how I feel about it. [This continues the spoiler warning, because I'm going to get kind of detailed with this conflict.] There's a lot of theoretical talk in the book about multiple dimensions and how time works and all of that kind of stuff, and I'm okay with that. On the whole, it all deals with current ideas, so it's not wild speculation by the author [Which I would probably be okay with, too, but I do want to point out Lawhead has not just made up all of the theory stuff in this series. There's science that goes with it.]. However, there is one theoretical position that I have not read about [So it could be made up? I haven't tried looking it up, yet, to see if it's something that's being said out there in SCIENCE.], and the logic with which Lawhead uses it kind of baffles me.

The idea is that time flows... well, it flows backwards. Instead of flowing from the past to the future, as we experience it, the idea in the book is that time flows from the future to the past. Okay, interesting thought, but what does it have to do with anything? Well, because of this reverse time flow, if something happens to mess up the future, that error gets carried back into the past and wipes everything out. In the book, this will result in the collapse of the multiverse and it will be as if it never existed. Time itself will cease to exist.

And here's my problem with that:
If such a thing happened and time actually ceased to exist, then nothing would ever have happened to begin with. There would be no story, because it never would have existed. Which may not make sense, and would also negate the, well, telling of the story, but, what I guess I'm saying, is why make it so that nothing, not even time, would exist, because then there was nothing to begin with. And I may be getting to metaphysical for this discussion, so I'll just say that that one logic hole bothers me. Probably not enough to run the series for me but enough to put me back to reserving judgment till the next book.

That said, I like Lawhead. He's one of the few authors whose books I will just pick up and read whenever he has a new book out. He gets to go to the front of the line, so to speak, which is not so figurative as it may sound. Also, I've really enjoyed this series, especially after what I felt was a lackluster start to it (see the review of the first book). Even though I'm having ambivalence about his whole "utter annihilation of the entire multiverse" thing, I'm sure I'll enjoy the last book. At least, I hope so. I suppose I'll let you know whenever the paperback is released.

** ** **

In related news that is not related:
I was looking at the pre-sale information for the fifth book, The Fatal Tree, and it's ridiculous. The hardcover is $20, which pretty normal, but the Kindle edition is $18! What the heck? And the paperback? The paperback is only $12. Now, anyone, tell me why I would pay $6 MORE for the e-version of the book. And this is why I have no sympathy for Hachette and other publishers who want to gouge consumers by charging more for something which has virtually no cost for them. It's just wrong.


  1. I'm no theoretical physicist, but it looks like he's created a new paradox. Now I'm curious to see if some string theorist out there has tossed this idea into the realm of possibility.

  2. Wel,, if it's true that's what would happen to begin with, then that plot point does something else - it telegraphs the ending. You're reading the story, so obviously time didn't cease to exist...

  3. I was just reading about the Hachette vs. Amazon problems, on an idie bookstore's blog. I think the ridiculous pricing is part of that dispute, but don't know enough about it.

    Thanks for the book recommendation(s) - I love time travel stuff!

  4. The books do sound kinda interesting. Never read Lawhead.

    Not saying I agree, but I think the super high ebook prices are intended to protect hardback sales.

  5. I think the overpricing of ebooks is getting ridiculous. Check on some of the top named authors and they are so highly priced for their ebooks as to be absolutely ridiculous.

  6. You have described my issue with time travel narratives in general. It's very difficult to avoid the paradoxical pitfalls. It sounds like the book worked for you overall, though, if you're already looking out for the next in the series.

  7. As a case in point, this morning I have been offered a book by Mercedes Lackey and the ebook version is $12.99 - Library here I come.

  8. It's a real hard trick to post reviews of books late in a series without spoiling it altogether. Thanks for sharing this interesting series!

  9. I've been reading this series since I found the first one on the 'New!' shelf at the library a few (hah, more than a few?) years back.

    I own all of it so far now, but I only own the last three books thinks to getting ARCs from the Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour. So I've been fortunate not to have to worry about the prices of the books - and yes, that ebook price is ridiculous. However, I've seen ridiculous prices like that for several years. They just seem to be more common now.

    The time flowing backwards thing was a bit of a stretch for me as well. I can think of a few ways that Lawhead could resolve that issue, so I'm curious to see if any of my guesses are correct eventually. A couple of them I think not, because I know it's how I would resolve that issue in a story, but not necessarily how he would. But you never know, right?

    So. Since you're a Lawhead fan, it seems, have you read the Song of Albion series? It's hard to find people who have!

  10. Anne: Yeah, I don't know. I've thought about doing some research on the topic, but I haven't been quite motivated enough to actually do it.

    Alex C: Yeah, I thought about that. They exist, so time must not have ceased to exist; the question is whether time didn't cease to exist because they're wrong or because of something they did.

    Katie: It is the dispute. Amazon wants to lower the e-book prices, and Hachette won't do it. It's all about Hachette retaining its physical book sales.

    Rusty: Oh, hey, I just said that.

    Hmm... If you want to read Lawhead, I wouldn't necessarily recommend starting with this series. Except, for you, I might.

    Jo: I wouldn't mind the overpricing of e-books so much if it meant that the authors were making more money, but they're not. It's just more money for the publisher and a way to drive physical book sales.

    TAS: Yeah, I'm enjoying the series. And it's not really time travel, it's multi-dimensional travel.

    Veronica: Sure! I do my best to keep it vague, but, yeah, it's hard.

    Rebekah: I have read that series, but it's not one of my favorite by him. If I'm remembering correctly, I really liked the middle book but didn't think much of the ending.

    The series that got me going with him was his Pendragon Cycle, the original three (when it was just a trilogy) are probably the best Arthur books I've read. (Book 4 was pretty horrible.)

  11. Series are so complicated to write. You have to set things up on a series-wide basis and an individual book basis. So there has to always be something bigger that isn't completely resolved with each book to keep people reading.

  12. I've heard of the theory of the future altering the past. Once the future happens, the past corrects itself. It doesn't seem like a logic hole to me, although it is kind of mind bending.

  13. I don't buy e-books over a certain price, so I don't buy e-books of big authors. If I'm going to pay that much, I want something paper in my hand.

  14. Stephanie: That can certainly be true. It really depends on whether the whole series is one story or if it's episodic.

    Jeanne: What I can say about it is that there is no empirical evidence to support it, so I find it rather ridiculous. I first heard of this idea in dealing with the cause of the big bang having to do with, basically, life from the future causing it to happen. There is, actually, nothing logical about causality working in reverse. It's one of those drunken college student ideas.

    TAS: I've lost the thread of what you mean. The Bright Empires series deals with multi-dimensional travel rather than straight up time travel. Tesseracts are neither of those.

    Shannon: I agree. I don't think I'm willing to pay more than $5 or so for an e-book unless there is a huge price difference between the e-book and the physical book.

  15. I guess I was wondering if the tesseract described in Wrinkle in Time comes up here, too. Guess not.

  16. Wow, series are so popular. I think my greatest wish would be to write something that publishers and readers actually wanted to become a series. No fear of that so far. I enjoyed reading your review - have a good week! :)

  17. Lexa: Well, this one was written as one story, so it wouldn't have been a good idea to have written the first one in the hope that he would get a series.
    You have a good week, too!

  18. TAS: Oh, no, it's a completely different idea.